Spring 2022

Puerto Rico: Road Map to a Renewable Future, Spring 2022

In the spring of 2022, the second cohort of students traveled to Puerto Rico over spring break, March 5-12. Similar to the inaugural seminar class, time was spent in San Juan and Adjuntas studying and experiencing energy challenges and learning from local leaders about alternative paths toward a more reliable and affordable future.

An enhancement to the 2022 experience was the group’s participation in a major solar panel installation in Adjuntas. This was made possible by donations of time, talent, and treasure from a group of Notre Dame alumni and their affiliations. Many thanks to these individuals and organizations:

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A very special thank you to Tim McCorry who spent his gap year working for LSTS in Adjuntas making preparations for the installations.

A second special experience was the presence of NBC’s film crew during the production of the What Would You Fight For video, “Fighting for Renewable Energy.” Thank you to Lucas Barreto ’23 and his parents, Professor Yamil Colón, and Rebecca Rodriguez Banch of Casa Pueblo for participating in the interviews.

Another thanks goes out to Wood Mackenzie and Let’s Share the Sun Foundation for producing and sharing this documentary on the installations in Adjuntas.

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Student participants were: Lucas Barreto, Elizabeth Callahan, Robert Fitzpatrick, Austin Flaute, Eva Homberger, Lily Klezmer, Alexander Kuptel, Erin Ludwig, Caroline O’Brien, Tomas Romero, Luiza Vara, and Joshua Williams.  

They were accompanied by Prof. Peter C. Burns, Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, Director of ND Energy, and Academic Advisors for the Energy Studies Minor, Ginger Sigmon, Managing Director of ND Energy, Anne Berges Pillai, Education and Outreach Associate Program Director, and Cale Gaster, graduate student and teaching assistant.


Below is a brief recap of each of the day’s events and experiences by students while in Puerto Rico. (View Photo Album on Facebook)

Day 1: Saturday, March 5
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Upon arrival in San Juan, the group settled into a dorm on the campus of the University of Sagrado Corazón. The University is led by President Gilberto Marxuach Torros ‘88. ND Energy offers Vincent P. Slatt Fellowship for Undergraduate Research in Energy Systems and Processes for summer research to students from Sagrado and has a multi-year relationship with them.

Day 2: Sunday, March 6

Sunday afternoon was tourist time. Students visited Old San Juan and “El Morro” in addition to spending time at the beach. In the evening, everyone attended Mass and enjoyed a meal with faculty and students from Sagrado.

Day 3: Monday, March 7

Students met with Antonio Garate at San Juan’s Bayshore Villas to learn about Álvarez-Díaz and Villalón (AD&V) and its award-winning mixed-income housing design. This location incorporates energy efficiencies and solar panels to power community rooms in the event of a hurricane, as well as other measures for resiliency in case of an earthquake or flooding. Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz ‘96 is co-founder and CEO of AD&V.

Later in the day, the group met with representatives of LUMA, the privately owned power distribution company for Puerto Rico, to learn about the challenges of repairing and upgrading the aging, poorly maintained grid that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. This group has taken on a huge challenge and is under intense scrutiny from the public and government officials. Students had an opportunity to ask about these challenges.

The final event of the day was to tour some of the facilities and academic departments at Sagrado. The administration building is on the National Register of Historic Places. This sits side-by-side with modern science labs and visual art created by its students.

Day 4: Tuesday, March 8

Students met with representatives from the Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP). This group of Puerto Ricans, most with jobs and degrees in nuclear engineering, is exploring the possibility of eventually using small modular nuclear power plants to provide carbon-free energy to Puerto Rico. They are surveying the population of the island to determine knowledge and attitudes toward nuclear energy.

In the afternoon, the group headed into the mountains for Adjuntas where they met with the solar installation contingent and members of the community non-profit, Casa Pueblo. They enjoyed an outdoor Puerto Rican cookout on a mountain overlooking the town while networking with the energy professionals in the group. The view drove home the complexity of supplying power with poles and wires over such terrain, even without the threat of hurricanes and earthquakes.

Day 5: Wednesday, March 9
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The group was up early to begin installing solar panels on the roof of a family with medical conditions. They spoke with family members who were grateful to have the reliability of solar power to ensure refrigeration of medication and the functioning of a hospital bed. Electricity is expensive and very unreliable in most of Puerto Rico, so the family was relieved to know that they would not face constant threats to their health in the future. Casa Pueblo and LSTS screened nearly 200 applications in the process of choosing ten homes for solarization.

Later in the day, the class joined Arturo Massol-Deyá, director of Casa Pueblo, for a tour of the Forest School, a community-managed site where Puerto Rican students are taught about the importance of protecting the environment. Much of the island’s water originates in the mountains making topics such as erosion vital lessons. Puerto Rico is also one of the main endemic biodiversity centers in the world. Casa Pueblo works to teach the next generation about the importance of protecting its unique ecosystem.

In the evening, students had the opportunity to interact with Goldman Environmental Prize winner Alexis Massol González, who along with his wife Faustina “Tinti” Deyá Díaz(1940-2021), established Casa Pueblo in 1980.

Day 6: Thursday, March 10

On the last full day in Adjuntas, students went far into the mountains to visit a home solarized earlier in the week by the alumni partners. There were three families with multiple medical conditions requiring electricity for survival living in the house. In spite of their remote location and challenging life, they expressed a love for their home and were grateful that they could remain there well into the future with reliable energy.

Students also helped Casa Pueblo paint a solar forest that will be used as a place for people to gather and charge their electrical devices. It is through projects such as this, partnering with community members, that Casa Pueblo has combined science, culture, and art to engage the citizens of Adjuntas.

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Day 7: Friday, March 11

Before leaving town, students taught fourth and fifth graders at Domingo Massol Elementary School in Adjuntas about energy. They used solar cars and other hands-on activities to demonstrate energy concepts and left supplies behind for teachers to use later. This is the second time that ND Energy has taught at this school.

On the drive back to San Juan, everyone enjoyed some well-deserved rest on the beach after a long and productive week with minimal sleep!